The Reopening of a South Rim Highway and the Purpose of Controlled Fires

A previously closed highway connecting Flagstaff with the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim has been reopened. A 12-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 180 north of Flagstaff was closed due to heavy smoke causing low visibility in the area. The smoke was due to a prescribed burn of the national forest.

Fire officials do these controlled burns in the forests near Grand Canyon trails for the safety and to preserve the environment. If these burns do not take place, many of these forests become overwrought with dried, dead plant matter that could ignite due to a errant spark or intense heat of the Grand Canyon weather. This creates larger, out-of-control wildfires that would spread and reach into healthy areas of the forest. These type of wildfires also endanger the lives of the elk, squirrels, condors, mountain lions, and other animals that reside in the area. A periodical, monitored fire helps eliminate the dead vegetation before it becomes too unruly.

Another reason for these prescribed burns is to protect and stimulate the forest’s ecosystem. These intentional fires prevent certain plant life from overgrowing and overtaking other areas of the forest. An additional bonus is that the burnt plant life helps fertilize the ground and restores nutrients in the earth so that more desirable plant life can grow. Controlled fires not only protect the forest, but actually benefits them as well.

The prescribed burn by the fire managers created billows of smoke that made the roads unsafe to drive in near U.S. Highway 180 and Interstate 40. The heavy black smoke makes visibility near impossible on the road and really dangerous to drive though. In order to get to the South Rim from Flagstaff, drivers had to circumvent that area by driving in safer parts of Interstate 40 and State Route 64. With that said, the smoke is now dissipated enough so that it is safe to drive again on U.S. Highway 180 to go on a South Rim Grand Canyon tour.